The Berkeley Rent Board Mailbag
Q: My elderly mother just moved out of the house she owned and lived in for 25 years and has asked me to help her rent it out. Do I need to register it with the Rent Board?
If there is only one unit on the property, that is, it has no additional unit like an in-law or a cottage, the house is considered a single-family dwelling (even if isn't occupied by a family) under state law, and is exempt from rent ceilings and registration requirements. An exception to this rule is if the house has more than four bedrooms, and you rent each bedroom to an individual tenant under a separate lease, it is considered a rooming house under Rent Board regulations, and each room must be separately registered. But if you rent the house as a whole, no reporting to the Rent Board or payment of fees is required. However, two sections of the Rent Ordinance still apply to single-family homes: interest must be paid annually on security deposits and there must be good cause for eviction.
Q: I own my home in Berkeley, and I would like to share it with a roommate. Will I have trouble getting rid of the roommate if things don't work out?
A landlord who is at least a 50% owner of a property that he or she occupies as a principal residence, and who shares a kitchen or bathroom with a tenant, is not subject to the Berkeley Rent Ordinance. If you meet those criteria, you do not need good cause to evict a tenant. You are still bound by state law, however, so if you have a month-to-month agreement with your tenant, he or she will be entitled to a 30-day written notice to leave.
Q: I am interested in buying a house that has an in-law unit on the property. My realtor says it's a "golden duplex" and therefore not subject to rent control. What exactly is a golden duplex and why would it not be under rent control?
First, for Rent Board purposes, a duplex is any two-unit property. Some duplexes are exempt from rent control, or "golden," while others are not. A duplex is exempt from rent control if an owner lived in one of the units as his or her principal residence on December 31, 1979 and an owner currently occupies one of the units as his or her principal residence (it need not be the same owner). "Owner" in this context means an owner of record with at least a 50 percent interest in the property.
The rationale for this exemption from rent control is the belief that an owner who shares a small property with a tenant will have a more familial relationship with his tenant and, therefore, there is less need for external rules to protect the tenant from unwarranted rent increases.
So, why aren't all owner-occupied duplexes exempt? The exemption is limited to two-unit properties that were owner-occupied on December 31, 1979 to protect tenants living in non-owner-occupied duplexes. If any duplex would become exempt by virtue of an owner residing on site, it is likely that every duplex in Berkeley would eventually be owner-occupied because of the financial benefit that comes with owning a rental unit with an unregulated rent. Such a broad exemption would effectively remove a significant number of units from the rental market and displace hundreds of renters. Therefore, to preserve the composition of the rental market, the exemption is limited to current owner-occupied duplexes that were owner-occupied at the beginning of rent control.
Q: I am considering purchasing an old, commercial, 11-unit building in Berkeley that has never been zoned for residential use and converting the units to live/work spaces. Is it true that live/work spaces are partially exempt from rent control restrictions in Berkeley? To be frank, this project will not work financially if the units are not exempt from rent control.
As a rule, live/work units are completely covered by the Berkeley Rent Stabilization Ordinance. However, rental units that were created since the adoption of the Ordinance in June 1980 are exempt from the rent ceiling provisions of the Ordinance as "new construction." Commercial space that is converted to residential use after June 1980 is also considered new construction. You should know that there is vacancy decontrol in Berkeley. Under vacancy decontrol, a landlord may set a unit=s rent at market level following a voluntary vacancy. The only advantage of a new construction exemption is the unrestricted ability to raise the rent on a sitting tenant.
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